Friday, December 8, 2023

Here’s what you need to know about those running for City Council in Williamsburg

Gov. Ralph Northam moved the elections back by two weeks, to May 19. While there are still options for voters to cast a ballot in person, Northam urges Virginians to vote absentee as much as possible.

The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail for the Williamsburg City Council election is May 12, according to the city’s website.

The Voter’s Registrar’s Office will be open May 16 for in-person absentee voting from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This will be the final day to vote with an in-person absentee ballot for the City Council election

Tina Reitzel, director of elections for the city, said the Voter Registrar has already seen a huge spike in absentee ballot requests, with 940 ballots requested and 425 mailed as of Wednesday.

In addition, the city’s Office of Elections started offering curbside services in March during normal business hours. Those who wish to use the services can park in the Municipal Building Parking Lot, 401 Lafayette St., and call the office at 757-220-6157.

On May 19, voters will be able to cast their ballot in-person through a drive-thru service available at the fire station at 440 North Boundary St. from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Reitzel said.

Both precincts will be broken up between two bays at the fire station where voters can drive up based on their precinct and cast their ballot. There will be approximately five election officers for each precinct, all wearing personal protective gear.

There are four candidates for three seats in this year’s Williamsburg municipal election.

The Williamsburg Area League of Women Voters sent out questionnaires to all the candidates. Here are their responses verbatim — the candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Worth noting: You also have the opportunity to include a write-in candidate.

Barbara Ramsey

  1. What strengths and expertise do you bring to this position?

My experience, commitment, and professional background make me an effective member of City Council.

I am someone who gets things done.  During my first term, I helped maintain low taxes, open a new middle school, add popular and innovative businesses, and transform the Williamsburg Shopping Center into Midtown Row. 

I am committed to the city and its residents as I attend over 200 City Council related meetings, events and appearances each year.  As a member of City Council, I am the representative/liaison to the Economic Development Authority, the School Liaison Committee, and the Neighborhood Balance Committee which allows me to focus on my key priorities – creating jobs, providing opportunities for our students, and maintaining the quality of our neighborhoods.

Coming into my role on Council, I had a professional background in international sales and marketing which has helped me be a leader in business development and celebrate our diverse city.  In addition to my professional experience, I have spent my first term engaging with counterparts in other cities through the Virginia Municipal League and the National League of Cities.  These collaborations have helped me learn best practices and new opportunities that Williamsburg can implement.

2. What are your priorities for City Council consideration?

My immediate priority is to assist in the City’s response to the COVID-19 crisis from both a public health and economic recovery standpoint. How we make it through the current challenges will drive what we can do over the next four years. It will be up to City Council to assist our residents whose physical and financial health has been impacted and to get our businesses back up and running again.

Outside of this important immediate need, my priorities will remain what they have been for the past four years: maintaining Williamsburg’s low property tax rate, creating jobs by attracting and expanding businesses, preserving our safe and charming neighborhoods, helping our schools, and being an accessible, engaged, and responsive representative for all citizens.

3. What is your vision of a future Williamsburg?

Once we get beyond the challenges of COVID-19, I want to work to continue the positive momentum our thriving city had coming into 2020.

Our residents are attracted to Williamsburg because of the strong services and amenities we offer combined with our low property taxes.  I will continue my emphasis on these priorities which include quality schools, balanced neighborhoods, public safety, walkability, and sustainability.  We are also a community where everyone is welcome and respected and we must continue to foster that atmosphere.

To drive our economy, we need to continue to invest in and partner with our tourism sector while also diversifying our economy and attracting new businesses that will create high-paying jobs.

We need to continue to invest in all parts of our city – not just downtown – to create diverse and distinctive communities that provide opportunities for all residents and visitors.

4. What are your perspectives on the “Tommy Tax” and how and would you want it changed?

It is important to remember from the start that this policy was enacted by the 140-members of the General Assembly and they are the only ones who can change it.  While City Council can express opinions, we cannot alter the policy.

The main purpose of this policy was to raise funds that can draw tourists to our community knowing that the more robust our tourism economy, the lower we are able to keep taxes on residents.  The policy also provides funds to the localities in the Historic Triangle allowing us to make additional investments in city infrastructure without increasing property taxes.

While I may not have designed a tourism development policy this way, I believe it is important that the policy be given a chance to work before we pass judgment on it.  If it works as intended, it will benefit all city residents.  If it does not, we can use the available data to determine where it has failed and make informed policy recommendations based on what we learn.

5. What would you set as budget priorities due to loss tax revenues from COVID-19 restrictions and business losses?

Our first priority as a city is to address the public health challenges related to COVID-19.  Once we have come safely through these challenges, we can focus on the economic recovery for our residents, our businesses, and the city overall.

Williamsburg will be well-positioned financially coming out of these challenges due to the conservative fiscal approach we have taken in recent years.  We have made strategic investments in the city and maintained a healthy reserve that can bridge gaps to meet the City’s operational needs.

We will need to continue to invest in our Economic Development efforts to mitigate business losses and create new jobs for our residents.  And we need to continue investments in those priorities that make Williamsburg a valued place to live and work such as our schools and our public services.

6. How can we seek to acknowledge racial disparities and remedy some of the complicated racial history related to past actions that did not include everyone having a seat at the table related to downtown development?

This has been a major issue around the country in recent years.  I am glad to see some of the efforts being undertaken at the state level such as the enrichment of the curriculum on African American history and revisions to the state code to eliminate outdated racially-insensitive policies.  Here in Williamsburg, we have seen some positive steps at our major institutions as both Colonial Williamsburg and William and Mary seek to more accurately share the African-American experience in our community’s past.

As a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Memorial Committee and William & Mary’s Juneteenth Committee, I am working with other community members to address these important topics.  One idea I have offered is the creation of an African American Heritage Trail in downtown Williamsburg that could provide more recognition to the role African Americans have historically played in our community.  Potential stops could include the Cooke Building, First Baptist Church with its Freedom Bell, the Triangle, Brown Hall, and the memorial to the enslaved at William and Mary.

7. How can we develop better and more varied housing options for people to live in the city of Williamsburg? Particularly related to walkability, which is one of our assets compared to the counties. 

Williamsburg is already making strides offering different housing options such as the build-out of High Street and the development of Midtown Row.  But there is more to be done.

Everybody who works in the City of Williamsburg should be able to afford to live here.  I am committed to addressing our needs for more affordable and workforce housing and to working with developers to ensure their plans include mixed-income housing.  As certain areas of our city like the Northeast Triangle are improved, we need to make sure that the cost of living does not increase beyond the ability of current residents to pay.

Other future considerations for the Planning Commission and City Council will be mixed-use developments, a review of density in various areas, and more diverse and balanced neighborhoods.

Walkability is important and the city has been making investments to improve walkability such as better pedestrian crossings and more pedestrian and bike lanes.  The new sidewalk being constructed to connect Midtown Row and William and Mary with New Town is our newest investment in creating a more walkable community.

8. Are there any additional ways you would consider working with Colonial Williamsburg to increase their ability to generate revenue from un-ticketed people walking through the Historic Area?

While I am committed to working with Colonial Williamsburg to ensure their continued success, I am mindful that the roads through the historic area are public roads and will not support any action that restricts the access of residents to public roads.

I am excited about the new era at Colonial Williamsburg under the leadership of Cliff Fleet who has already shown his commitment to our city and willingness to collaborate to advance the best interests of CW and of the community.

I have proposed that CW consider some new approaches to increase revenue and ticket purchases These include making the historic area more welcoming for visitors who don’t enter via the Visitor Center to encourage them to buy tickets or make a contribution.  They can also make it easier for visitors to spend money through creative options like ticketing for individual buildings, more diverse retail, dining, and nightlife options, and a more sophisticated use of modern technology.

Caleb T. Rogers

1. What strengths and expertise do you bring to this position?

Despite my age, I am not a newcomer to our local government. In the last four years, I have served on our Public Housing Advisory Committee, as an Economic Development Intern for the City, and most recently as a Planning Commissioner. These involvements, along with community service work with W&M groups, have shown me all different areas of our City and allowed me to meet countless residents from diverse backgrounds.

I hope to bolster this experience with personal qualities. I love this City, and I plan to show it through thoughtful work serving our community. Ultimately, I feel my age is an asset, as a multi-generational and energetic City Council will do incredible work for Williamsburg.

2. What are your priorities for City Council consideration?

I would most like to see us accomplish a resounding rebound from the economic hardships we are facing today and tomorrow. If there is ever a time for some fresh thinking, it is in these coming months of uncertainty. The City Council should pause non-essential capital projects and instead utilize funds for economic relief in local business subsidies or further assistance purchases.

Additionally, I am invested in the long-term success of our amazing City, as well. Even amazing places need to be innovative, which I believe we can be to address a number of things. Over recent decades tourism has slightly slowed, our neighborhoods are less-and-less owner-occupied, graduates don’t stay after graduation, and entire families are living in hotels right down the street from me. Our motto is “Virginia’s Colonial Capital,” and in many ways we are still that idyllic City. But to stay with the times, there is always a necessity for original ideas. With five members on our City Council, I feel strongly that I could add to the conversation as one voice already familiar with our City, but also one that thinks in a fresh way.

3. What is your vision of a future Williamsburg?

To maintain our distinction as ‘The South’s Best Small Town.’

We might not win the Southern Living award every year, but I believe we can further the qualities that make this City incredible: our historic nature, our ideal size, and our sense of community. 

In order to continue this, we will need to be creative in our considerations. In the future, I would like to see more families moving here, a diversified tourism economy, and efforts to end the “brain drain” of graduates immediately leaving. But that does not mean becoming a metropolis.

Williamsburg is a very unique City especially because of its small size. We also have a great school system, we are equidistant between the mountains and the beach, we are close to both the state’s and the nation’s capital, and we were created before even the 18th century. My vision for a future Williamsburg is to maintain that distinct character, while staying relevant as a great place to live.

4. What are your perspectives on the “Tommy Tax” and how and would you want it changed?

As a taxpayer in this City, I want to know where my tax dollars are going. The City of Williamsburg does a good job telling residents where its priorities will be with the biennial Goals, Initiatives, and Outcomes, but we don’t have a very specific description for the purpose of our Tourism Development Fund.

Funding that grows our tourism base is vitally important. Senate Bill 942 (the “Tommy Tax”) increased sales taxes in the Historic Triangle by 1%, with all three localities utilizing a percentage how they would like. I have looked extensively into the creation of this tax, and in 2017 I was surprised to see the four City Councilors who deliberated over it, with the mayor recusing himself, having somewhat different visions for what the increased funding could go towards. I do not believe in increasing taxes just for the sake of doing so. I do believe in transparency.

On City Council, I would like to further define the actual use of our Tourism Development Fund, so that we are purposeful about using taxpayer dollars to fund long-lasting projects that have a high economic yield for our area.

5. What would you set as budget priorities due to loss tax revenues from COVID-19 restrictions and business losses?

Our budgetary priorities will not only change until the stay-at-home order is lifted, but instead will need a rethinking to address the lasting effects of a temporary decrease in tourism. 

In a previous answer, I mentioned the unique character of Williamsburg. One of the qualities that makes up our uniqueness is our strong local business community. The City’s capital improvements are non-recurring expenditures. If there is ever a time to respond, it is in these coming months of uncertainty. The City Council should pause non-essential capital projects and instead utilize this fund for economic relief in local business subsidies or further assistance purchases. Thanks to the good work of our Economic Development Office, local businesses have been recording their losses and the City should work to adequately distribute state and federal relief grants, while also providing locally-based aid.

The City will also benefit from a history of fiscal conservatism by being able to access cash reserves, or “rainy day,” funds if need be. I am glad to see the City’s proposed financial preparedness plan. Postponing non-critical FY21 expenses was something I initially asked for in a March 27th essay, but I also think utilizing unawarded TDF funds is the correct usage of the fund as it puts local dollars to use locally.

6. How can we seek to acknowledge racial disparities and remedy some of the complicated racial history related to past actions that did not include everyone having a seat at the table related to downtown development?

I’m glad this question is being asked. It is a very important topic, as Williamsburg has not always been open to every community. In fact, there is an unfortunate history of racially-biased land use expansion from institutions in our City, well researched by a friend of mine.

The first thing we can do is finally see the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at the Triangle. For over 20 years, a placeholder sign has stood there stating the “future home” of the memorial. Establishing this landmark would be in celebration of all that minority communities bring to Williamsburg, while also encouraging downtown vibrancy in that area. I am encouraged by recent efforts to fund this memorial and I hope they are seen through once and for all.

But not only should we see surface-level reconciliation, we should see systemic. On the City Council, I would like to see through the official establishment of a Minority Business Council to promote minority-owned businesses in the City. This Council would be one of the first of its kind done at the local level and the conversation around its creation has already begun.

With these, our community can reconcile with its past and promote an even better future for all of our neighbors.

7. How can we develop better and more varied housing options for people to live in the city of Williamsburg? Particularly related to walkability, which is one of our assets compared to the counties.

For walkability, for a growing workforce, and for vibrancy, the City of Williamsburg should be open to incrementally increasing density. We need to seek out solutions to provide housing across the City for every level of income. As is widely known, Williamsburg, despite our incredibly low property tax rate, can economically be a difficult place to live because of our highly priced housing stock. This means plenty of the people who live and breathe a love of Williamsburg actually do so from James City County air! With a City Council amenable to a moderate level of increased density and varied housing options, we can attract the people working in Williamsburg to live in Williamsburg.

8. Are there any additional ways you would consider working with Colonial Williamsburg to increase their ability to generate revenue from unticketed people walking through the Historic Area?

Part of the charm of our area is the fact that our nation’s history can be accessed so easily, free of charge. That being said, we should absolutely encourage people to enjoy the amenities Colonial Williamsburg offers to its ticketed visitors. Wayfinding signage and promotional marketing are two examples of ways to do this.

 On the topic of revenue generation, Colonial Williamsburg also has a great deal of land. While their mission will always be historically-focused, CW could attempt to rezone parcels of land for different uses than their current state. On my term on the Planning Commission, I was excited to vote for just this, in supporting CW’s proposal to rezone an empty field into an outdoor event space called Palace Farms. To diversify our tourism economy, the City Council should maintain an open mind to all innovative ideas, some of which I hope CW would propose to best utilize the space they have for the betterment of this region.

Paul Freiling

  1. What strengths and expertise do you bring to this position?

There is a steep learning curve for anyone when she or he is first elected to Council.  Many of the issues with which we deal are complicated and cannot be easily resolved through intuition alone—they require and deserve the application of experience.  I have climbed that curve and am fully prepared to apply all that I have learned as a student at William & Mary, as a worker in the city for 38 years, and through 22 years of broad public service to overcome challenges that face our community and to make the most of the opportunities we enjoy.

I have the experience of a parent about to graduate a second child from our public-school system and as someone who has served on the School Liaison Committee.  I have served on multiple Boards and Commissions, as chair of two of them prior to my Council tenure.  I understand, inside and out, how our local government works and, more importantly, how to get things done.

At a recent citizenship program for local Boy Scouts, I was asked what the most important thing was that I do as Mayor.  The answer was easy: I listen, all the while keeping an open mind and being receptive to input.  I take in all that I hear, analyze it, synthesize it, and make a decision.  And in the rendering of that decision I explain my reasoning.  Everyone may not always agree with me, but they will always clearly know where I stand and why.

2. What are your priorities for City Council consideration?

Recovery:  Leading our City and the surrounding community through the current COVID-19 health crisis while being prepared, following the end of the threat, to engage in a vigorous resumption of commercial activity providing the best possible outcomes for our residents, businesses, and non-profits

Economic development and diversification:  Encouraging new businesses that complement our existing tourism economy, diversification of tourism offerings to attract new, wider audiences, and strengthening the environment for existing businesses

Downtown, Midtown and Capitol Landing Road vibrancy:  Revitalizing these key areas as hubs of community and visitor activity, further stimulating our local economy

Preserving the character of our neighborhoods:  Preserving the aesthetic of the built environment that helps define Williamsburg and ensuring a harmonious living experience for all residents

Maintaining the high quality of our essential functions:  Promoting public health, safety, and welfare efforts, within a sustainable budget

Investing in education:  Supporting our teachers and our school system for the benefit of our children and the entire community

Encouraging a range of housing options within our community:   Benefiting all residents by providing options at different price points, retaining the entrepreneurs, and housing our workforce

Providing housing for the elderly:  Redeveloping the Blayton Building to provide a better life experience for its residents

Fiscal responsibility:  Maintaining the lowest property tax rate of any city in Virginia

Protecting our community’s environment for future generations:  Exceeding the high standards already set by our Go-Green Virginia platinum designation to preserve our natural environment for the younger generation and those yet to come.

3. What is your vision of a future Williamsburg?

My professional responsibilities require that I travel to communities across the nation, most of which are places where people have a strong desire to live.  It is an educational experience, providing an opportunity to understand a wide range of wonderful locations and to ask the residents thereof about the strengths and weaknesses of their communities.  And yet, at the conclusion of each trip, I look forward to my return to Williamsburg.  In fact, many of the people I visit wish they lived in Williamsburg.  In short, we already have a high bar of success in so many areas.  The real question is what can we do better.  Here are a few thoughts.

“Inclusivity:  As much as I like to think we are an open-minded community and welcoming to all, there remain bastions of intolerance.  The recent issues related to mistreatment of Asians out of some misplaced resentment over COVID-19 are inexcusable.  An incredibly poignant letter from an anonymous LGBTQ+ member of our community was heartbreaking.  If the author reads this, please contact me directly.  We must do better, and we will.

Equal opportunity:  We must continue to make progress in closing the achievement gap in our schools across all segments.  This becomes more complex due to significantly more IEPs, English Language Learners, and growing anxiety and depression stress among our students, but is worth every effort.

Economic Development:  Let’s find ways to keep more of the W&M brainpower here driving our economy and broadening our perspective, which will benefit everyone.

4. What are your perspectives on the “Tommy Tax” and how and would you want it changed?

SB942 provides two funding streams that are important to the City of Williamsburg and our two neighboring counties.  While there are differences of opinion about the appropriateness of the source of these funds, there is no doubt that the application of these funds will have significant positive impacts upon our entire community.

Half of the SB942 money collected in each jurisdiction goes directly to tourism marketing for the region, which is overseen by the Tourism Council.  This marketing pool will allow a level of promotion never previously seen here.  2020 was going to be the first full year of that investment, but we are now on pause.  Even so, once businesses reopen and people begin to travel, we will be well prepared to promote this area in a variety of ways that were never previously possible.  More visitation will mean more spending in our restaurant, hotel, entertainment, retail, and service sectors, which will create more revenue and more jobs.

The second half of the funds are discretionary for each jurisdiction.  Williamsburg is committing its discretionary money to the TDF for investment in tourism related infrastructure, which will also help draw guests to visit and stay longer, likewise resulting in more revenue for the community.

If this does not work as planned, SB942 should be repealed.  If it does work well, we need then to use the additional revenue it generates to fund the many other City services that support those in need, enhance quality of life, education, and public safety.

5. What would you set as budget priorities due to loss tax revenues from COVID-19 restrictions and business losses?

The City’s FY21 budget is currently under consideration.  Staff will present the budget at our April 9 meeting where Council will advise staff of any needed adjustments.  That revised budget will be the subject of a public hearing at our May 14 meeting, where the public can comment.  We will then vote on the budget at our June 11 meeting, which will be, as it always is, prior to the installation of a new Council.

Our current worse-case scenario is forecasting a $4M shortfall in revenue for FY20 and an additional shortfall of about $6.5M in FY21.  These are very large numbers for a community of our size.  Even so, we have a funding plan that will result in no reductions in service to our residents if the worst-case scenario is not exceeded. 

The first line of financial defense will be recouping any unspent money from completed projects in our FY20 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  The second line will be to postpone any non-essential capital expenditures in the FY21 CIP.  It is important to note here that those are postponements and not cancellations of those projects.  The third line will be to dip into our Tourism Development Fund balance of money not yet committed to infrastructure projects.  Here it is important to note that this is not the marketing money portion of SB942 revenue that goes to the Tourism Council.

By doing all of this, we will retain our current level of service and our cash reserves without raising taxes.

6. How can we seek to acknowledge racial disparities and remedy some of the complicated racial history related to past actions that did not include everyone having a seat at the table related to downtown development?

Three primary efforts underway to acknowledge our complicated racial history include W&M’s planned memorial to the enslaved; establishing a community Juneteenth celebration, which is a partnership among W&M, the local NAACP, and the City; and the planned MLK/community leaders memorial the City is working towards.

This latter memorial is the focus of a community task force being led by local NAACP President Brian Smalls.  The discussion began with a focus on Dr. King.  The group quickly realized that an appropriate memorial should also recognize the contributions of the many Williamsburg residents, who have championed racial equality.  The group is not quite ready to present publicly their thoughts, but they have made great progress on concept, locations, and the commitment of funds to make it possible.   

Regarding input on any future downtown development, which would mostly be redevelopment, the City has been in discussion with W&M and Colonial Williamsburg to undertake joint community conversations in order to learn what our residents want to see happen in and around downtown.  Weaving together the planning for the priorities of all three entities will be important in order to achieve the most cohesive outcome.  We want input early on from the entire community through this process because it will help us do an even better job of creating a downtown of which we can all be proud and because we recognize that we will be more successful together.  Unfortunately, as with most things today, the COVID-19 threat has placed this effort temporarily on hold.

7. How can we develop better and more varied housing options for people to live in the city of Williamsburg? Particularly related to walkability, which is one of our assets compared to the counties.

We are already doing this.  Currently under construction are housing units at High Street and Midtown Row.  The former will have great appeal among the younger professionals, which will be important as we strive to retain a greater portion of the graduating talent at W&M, which in turn will attract more businesses seeking to employ them.  The latter will appeal to students and others who want to live in a place where they can shop, dine, exercise, and find entertainment.  Together, these will take pressure off our neighborhoods around campus.

We have recently changed the ED zoning language to allow for the potential for senior housing on the Riverside tract.  Additionally, we will be considering a similar request for the parcel at South Henry and 199.  We have approved the workforce housing complex on Parkway Drive.  We are also developing plans for new senior housing downtown on the Blayton site.

This all needs to be connected.  Over the past several years, we have made great strides in adding sidewalks and bike lanes.  Recently we have added or improved sidewalks on Lafayette, Longhill, Parkway, and Bypass.  Currently, the Monticello multi-use path is under construction.  We are also looking at enhanced pedestrian facilities on South Henry, Capitol Landing, Newport, and Francis.

“In addition to all this, we have asked our Housing Authority Executive Director to lead a task force on housing in order to help us understand and then address whatever gaps may still remain after all of this work is completed.

8. Are there any additional ways you would consider working with Colonial Williamsburg to increase their ability to generate revenue from unticketed people walking through the Historic Area?

As an employee of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation it would not be appropriate for me to answer this question because of its potential to become a policy matter before City Council, which creates a conflict of interest.

W.P. Pat Dent

1. What strengths and expertise do you bring to this position?

During my tenure as the City of Williamsburg Fire Chief and Coordinator of Emergency Management, I established myself as an effective leader with an unwavering commitment to our great community. I consistently displayed the City’s core values of integrity, caring, accountability, respect and equity. My 38+ years of experience in local government enhanced my strengths in supervising and managing employees, developing and managing budgets, setting organizational priorities, establishing city policies, and proposing necessary ordinances. These strengths have prepared me to transition from a successful public safety leader to a collaborative member of the Williamsburg City Council. I’ve successfully worked with Williamsburg City staff and its vital partners, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the College of William and Mary, and the citizens of Williamsburg, to achieve common goals. My deliberate and thoughtful consideration of issues will prove beneficial as a member of Williamsburg City Council. My experience combined with my passion for serving the public will be an asset to the Williamsburg City Council, while leading the City of Williamsburg into the future.

2. What are your priorities for City Council consideration?

I entered this campaign for Williamsburg City Council with an open mind and a commitment to be responsive to all citizens. Although I was looking forward to my door to door campaign to obtain a better understanding of priorities from the community, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented door to door campaigning and a number of other planned interactions with the community. Nevertheless, some of the priorities I share with those I have engaged with through telephone conversations, my campaign website and other social media platforms include – Investing in education by supporting our school system and teachers to ensure a quality education for all students. I believe we must support the school system while returning to a sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 health crisis stabilizes and ultimately ends. Additionally, identifying the most cost-effective methods for reducing overcrowding in our schools, thus minimizing the negative impacts on students and teachers. Preserving the character of our neighborhoods to ensure long-term sustainability and protecting the value of our homes. Review current ordinances related to neighborhood preservation to ensure they are accomplishing the desired outcomes. Enhancing the quality of life for all citizens by promoting public health, safety and welfare through a variety of initiatives, programs, and processes while ensuring the City has adequate personnel and material resources to effectively deal with any future crisis.     

3. What is your vision of a future Williamsburg?

A community where all citizens, businesses, and other stakeholders continue to come together to solve problems and have conversations about the challenges ahead. A city that builds upon the many strengths of our rich historical significance, our great college, the businesses, and the inviting neighborhoods spread throughout our community. A place that every citizen feels included, every college student remembers us as one of the best experiences of their life, and every visitor feels welcome and promotes us the world over.

4. What are your perspectives on the “Tommy Tax” and how and would you want it changed?

Visitors are extremely vital to the economy of Williamsburg.  With the continued decline in visitation, additional funding is necessary to market Williamsburg as a desirable tourist destination. The City provides a great deal of services and maintains a low real estate property tax rate for its citizens. Our surrounding jurisdictions can’t afford to offer lower tax rates, based in part because they don’t have a revenue generating tourism industry similar to the City of Williamsburg. As a member of Williamsburg City Council, I will use my leadership and budgeting experiences to ensure the tourism dollars are utilized efficiently and effectively. Additionally, I will work to create measurable guidelines and accountability to guarantee project outcomes are achieved. As a result of the tax, there are immediate funds available to aggressively promote Williamsburg at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic which will result in a more rapid recover for the Williamsburg economy. If it is determined the use of the tax is not producing the desired outcome, as a member of City Council I will support a request to rescind the ‘Tommy Tax.’

5. What would you set as budget priorities due to loss tax revenues from COVID-19 restrictions and business losses?

Budget priorities must include public safety, public health, and public education. With that said, there will obviously be far reaching impacts from COVID-19, which will not be identified until the pandemic stabilizes and has ended. Ongoing and changing priorities will be managed in a manner    to identify and address the numerous impacts thrust upon our citizens, businesses, the City’s budget, and City’s workforce. It will be very important to return our community to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible when it is safe to do so.  

6. How can we seek to acknowledge racial disparities and remedy some of the complicated racial history related to past actions that did not include everyone having a seat at the table related to downtown development?

In all my years as a public servant, particularly as Williamsburg’s Fire Chief, I actively pursued a diverse workforce that was representative of the community I served. As a member of City Council, I will be charged with an even greater responsibility. I will work tirelessly for the inclusion of all minorities and to proactively engage them in the affairs of the City. Additionally, I will diligently work to ensure minorities feel welcomed and included in decisions that impact the City, while seeking to identify minority individuals who are interested in serving on various boards and commissions. As a member of City Council, I will leverage the strength of the York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP Branch to identify and analyze strategies to implement solutions to resolve racial disparities.

7. How can we develop better and more varied housing options for people to live in the city of Williamsburg? Particularly related to walkability, which is one of our assets compared to the counties.

We are fortunate to have a variety of housing options in the city which include everything from single family homes in neighborhoods to townhouses and apartments. Some dwellings are in neighborhoods within walking distance to desired amenities and some are a little more remote with limited walkability. This has been an ongoing challenge for years and zoning changes in the past have improved the practicality of this issue. Modifications to the comprehensive plans will have to be considered and should include as much input from citizens as possible throughout the city. It is of critical importance that all neighborhoods have a voice in these development options.

8. Are there any additional ways you would consider working with Colonial Williamsburg to increase their ability to generate revenue from unticketed people walking through the Historic Area?

Working with Colonial Williamsburg on various avenues to increase their revenue must be of paramount importance for the Williamsburg City Council. Unticketed people walking through the historic area is merely one side of an issue that has many considerations. These visitors spend money in a variety of businesses such as stores and restaurants throughout downtown. The word of mouth advertisement is virtually unmeasurable and likely leads to additional revenues for Colonial Williamsburg and other businesses. It is not in the best interest of the City or Colonial Williamsburg to portion off sections of what has earned us the reputation of a desirable destination. Any attempt to deny or isolate visitors from walking freely down our public streets can destroy the downtown ambience and potentially alienate our own citizens from frequenting local businesses. The solution should include implementing a process to make purchasing a ticket more attractive and easier. A more patron friendly sales office at the corner of South Henry and Duke of Gloucester streets may result in increased ticket sales. The present facility lacks in appeal, weather protection and comfort when waiting in line. Efforts to identify new and innovative ways to attract additional people while utilizing technology to support new ideas must be an ongoing consideration.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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